Winning Culture = Development Culture

Exploring the impact that quality coaching and a strong system of development can have, revisited with an assist from Mark Moriarty and his implementation of Driveline protocols starting in 2017.

Prior to Mark’s arrival: 5.6 ERA, .286 BAA, 8.3 K/9, 3.8 BB/9.

Mark’s first year implementing Driveline training protocols: 3.56 ERA, .242 BAA, 9.65 K/9, 3.6 BB/9

Mark and I have talked a little bit about the process he put in place for that year, and one of the biggest pieces was creating a culture of competition and worrying less about throwing strikes and more about throwing hard.

Head to 2018 where numbers just got stupid good. Mark outlines a lot of what helped make the 2018 team so successful in his blog post here:

2018 Data

*Mark’s second year: 2.85 ERA, .209 BAA, 10.14 K/9, 3.05 BB/9 just for comparison sake to the previous references*

Taking over this pitching staff for 2019, I knew that it wouldn’t be the full rebuild that I had in my first position because I was following someone that had done such incredible work. They had posted some of the best numbers in the country, but I also knew that a lot of those arms were no longer going to be there (almost 75% of the innings left the program). With all eyes on this team and some sprinkles of injuries that took time away from top position players and pitchers, 2019 should have been the year that proved 2018’s title a flash in the pan. Here’s why that didn’t happen, from the perspective of the pitcher’s mound. 

Coming in, I knew I had the task of learning distinctive deliveries for an entire pitching staff so we got right to taking video of every bullpen, not only to learn deliveries, but of their pitches as well. I locked in on watching video most days attempting to diagnose leaks in our delivery efficiency and ways that we could attack pitch design even though that was months away (after finishing competition mode, mechanical adjustments, and velocity training). 

We had only 9 pitchers healthy in the fall, so our first step was to get those guys on programs to be ready to contribute in the spring. For those that were healthy, it was a fall of scrimmaging which aided in understanding what they could do, but competition time comes at the cost of being able to focus training economy on developing further. Fortunately, we were able to begin implementing some of the processes (understanding rapsodo information, delivery adjustments to be made, etc.) early to negate as much lost time as possible. We accomplished this by using the Rapsodo outside in all bullpens thrown and having video sessions during practice where we went through individual videos as a staff. It provided us the opportunity to learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses and create an understanding of what individual focuses needed to be during fall practices. 

2019 Results: 3.75 ERA, .243 BAA, 8.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9

Velocity tracking from fall to spring for all FBs thrown in live at bats and in games. Approximately 200 FBs thrown in fall per pitcher (except pitcher 18 – approx 100 for him). Spring volume varies considerably, but all pitchers at 400+ FBs thrown.

FAvg 2018 FPeak 2018 SAvg 2019 SPeak 2019 Avg Incr Peak Incr
Pitcher 1 87.2 88.6 89.6 93.2 2.4 4.6
Pitcher 2 83.5 86.1 86.8 90.4 3.3 4.3
Pitcher 3 90.2 95.3
Pitcher 4 81.6 85.3
Pitcher 5 88.4 90.7
Pitcher 6 82.5 87.2 84.1 87.4 1.6 0.2
Pitcher 7 79.1 80.8 83.8 86.8 4.7 6
Pitcher 8 83.3 86.5 87.8 90.3 4.5 3.8
Pitcher 9 86.8 90.4
Pitcher 10 88.2 92.3
Pitcher 11 74.3 76.1 83.8 87.1 9.5 11
Pitcher 12 87.1 89.7
Pitcher 13 84.3 86.2 87.3 89.6 3 3.4
Pitcher 14 87.1 90.1 88.6 91.8 1.5 1.7
Pitcher 15 80.3 83.2 83.8 86.9 3.5 3.7
Pitcher 16 83.2 85.4 86.7 89.5 3.5 4.1
Pitcher 17 82.3 84.4 82.6 87.1 0.3 2.7
Pitcher 18 84.1 85.9 87.6 91.6 3.5 5.7
Pitcher 19 88.9 91.2 89.3 92.8 0.4 1.6
Pitcher 20 89.7 94.4
Staff 83.08 85.52 86.69 90.13 3.21 4.06

How did we get here? Lets take a look at the individual development from some of our pitchers.

Pitcher 18 (85-86 to 87-89)

Assessment

  • History of forearm/elbow injury and discomfort – didn’t participate in fall scrimmages until the very last game, built up a couple bullpens prior to one game
  • Had quality pitches that moved glove side, but nothing that went arm side. Had lost feel for his CB and caused difficulty spring of his sophomore year
  • Mechanically sound in his delivery, minimal cleanup was needed and especially since he was slated to be one of our biggest contributors, the biggest focus needed to be on pitch design and arm health

Process

  • Modified plyocare routine to promote more heavy ball use
  • Volume monitored closely to avoid forearm flare up. Prioritized increasing volume over effort to allow forearm tissue to positively adapt to stimulus
  • Was able to do some of the velocity based training in the off-season once we got his arm back into good shape this fall
  • Used the Rapsodo and slow motion camera to create quality spin axis on CH and 2S (2S close to 1:30 and CH closer to 2-2:30) to provide arm side action pitches keeping RHH honest and to have a better weapon against LHH. Also used it to create better spin axis on CB and went to spike grip to create better visual against hitters

Results

  • Velocity climbed 2-3mph consistently compared to previous full season where he was 85-86 (note wasn’t full strength for fall pens in chart)
  • Able to make all his starts, led the league in IP
  • Numerous awards (Conference/Region Pitcher of the Year, 2nd Team All-American, All-Region, All-Conference) 

Pitcher 2 (83-84 to 86-87)

Assessment

  • Clean arm action, needed to get more out of his lower half (not getting much glute/hip engagement leading to difficulty in rotational sequencing of the throw)

Video shows an early move from the back foot rolling to the toe create a quad dominant move and loses the glute and backside too quickly. Arm action worked pretty cleanly and works well in the plane of shoulder rotation all the way through release and into the follow through

  • Couldn’t pronate to throw a true CH from his overhand arm slot. Made the decision to go to a splitter instead
  • Above ave spin FB and good axis provided vertical break – focused on more of a true vertical breaking CB with complementary spin to support FB (was a SL dominant breaking ball pitcher the previous season)

Process

  • Had him focus more on staying back into his hip using the “ride the slide” cue and some drills from reading Lantz Wheeler material to engage the lower half on a better level. Good example from Coach Martino below (some throwing plyocare and some non throwing reps just to focus on lower half mechanics)

  • Participated fully in our velocity based training off-season program
  • Switched from a traditional CH to a Splitter as his CH and worked to tighten up the CB spin being more 12-6 to help create some better separation between his FB and SL and give him 3 legit offerings while working on his splitter (used sparingly in games)

Results

  • Velocity increased significantly. Was sitting 86-88 most games and touched 90 for the first time, and did it multiple times in games
  • Was able to bounce back and forth between reliever and starter during the year because of the quality of his arm action and movement without declining in health or performance
  • Rapsodo readouts below show the separation in his movement profiles showing significant differentiation among the major 3 pitches used in games which helps to explain why the strikeout numbers were so high (10+ K/9 overall and 12+ K/9 in conference). Next step will be him improving the splitter and getting strong horizontal break from it and killing some lift to create a fourth distinct movement profile. Another thing to consider is the consistency of clustering, part of why he was such a big piece to our staff this season

TannerMovementMetrics

Pitcher 14 (86-88 to 88-89)

Assessment

  • Immediately loved the way this kid moved. Created quality pelvic tilt, moved his center of mass down the mound while staying in his glute and back leg, kept his torso stacked over his pelvis all the way through the throw, arm is up around the same time at stride foot contact, holds counter rotation into foot plant to create space and time for energy transfer up to the baseball, and arm really works through the throw. It was clear that we wouldn’t be working on any big delivery adjustments. The only delivery change we worked on was internally rotating the glove side arm through the throw (a cue I stole from Ben Brewster and Christian Wonders) to promote a little bit of a turn away from the glove side and subconsciously create a little bit more time for the torso rotation
  • Threw a straight FB, slow overhand CB, and an average CH. Below average spin rate on his FB (1800-1900 RPM), good 12-6 spin on CB, bad spin axis/direction on CH

Process

  • Needed to promote more sink on FB due to below average spin rate (also commanded ball at the bottom of the zone better already) and look to get his CH on a similar spin axis as well as work in a tight gyroscopic spin SL as a better breaking ball offering with more velocity and that he could work down in the zone with his FB
  • Participated fully in our velocity program in the off-season
  • SL pitch design broke down to 40-60 pitch sessions with lower effort throws using the Rapsodo to give us quantifiable feedback and connect it to the video and his feel. This one in particular was close, but the spin direction was pointed up just a little more than we wanted

Results

  • One of our main starters and very successful, especially early in the year
  • Experienced some lower back pain late in the year (didn’t miss any outings but lost a little life on his pitches). Potentially a mobility issue in the hips, but also needed to do a better job of managing his explosive rotational movements as a pitcher and hitter as he served as a DH and 1B as well
  • Improved spin on FB and CH into the 1:30-2:30 window for both (Had been between 0:30 and 1:00). Maintained CB spin quality and used as a good change of pace in games. SL became primary off-speed pitch, but sometimes lost feel given it had only been learned 4 months prior

Pitcher 1 (86-88 to 88-90 – note he was upper 80s the season prior, likely not full strength in fall ball) 

Assessment

  • Very unique mover given some injury history (elbow, back) so we didn’t want to change things too drastically given his output being high and being a 5th year SR
  • Biggest need was to improve break on SL (would get too lateral and lose vertical break and it correlated with in game struggles) and add some arm side run to FB

Process

  • Worked slightly on staying in the glute/hip as he engages the slope of the mound
  • Primarily worked on different feels with the SL to provide the ability to throw it for a strike (starting with a slightly upwardly point spin direction) and throwing for a ball in the dirt (more of a straight spin direction to the plate) as shown in the video

Results

  • One of our main relievers and someone we brought in to get strikeouts in big situations
  • Biggest struggles came in games that he wasn’t given much time to prepare
  • Used as an opener late in the season and was excellent in that role

Pitcher 17 (82-83 to 83-85 – note avg FB velocity skewed due to dislocated toe early in the conference season keeping velocity in the 80mph range, up to 83-86 consistently by end of the season). 

Assessment

  • Plus command and good feel for three pitches in any count with good movement on all of them. Needed velocity
  • Pushy delivery, really linear moves, upper body too open at stride foot contact, and strode too far

Process

  • Shortened stride and focused mostly on rotating as quickly as possible
  • Keeping arm slot in the low 3/4 window that provided best action on pitches (had difficulty with consistent arm slot year prior – resulted in his SL being less effective)
  • Participated fully in velocity programming in the off-season
  • Wanted to create a more aggressive lead leg blocking mechanism shown in the claw back from the video above (med ball throws)

Results

  • Velocity improved after his toe healed fully. Was peaking at the end of the season
  • Command was a little bit hit and miss, but most of the time was very successful
  • Tables below help to demonstrate consistency of release between his pitches (note the FB/FT are both FBs just a distinction when we went from a 4S to a 2S)
  • Also shows the importance for a lower velocity guy to have distinctly different pitches and quality movement profiles on the SL and CH to be a successful piece of a good pitching staff

JedReleaseMetricsJedMovement

Pitcher 9 (No fall velocity – recovering from Tommy John Surgery, previous highs were 86-87 to 87-88) 

Assessment

  • Arm was long and not connected to delivery
  • Missed 2 previous seasons due to UCL injury (partial and then full tear)
  • Big extender in the back to help get the arm up into the high slot
  • Above average spin and positive vertical break on his FB (16-17 inches) so wanted to get the axis from being between 1:00-1:30 to being between 0:00-1:00 as consistently as possible to increase positive vertical break

Process

  • Used Driveline Pivot Picks/Roll-Ins to help shorten the arm action and get it in better sequence with the body. Video shows arm was actually early rather than late as it was before when it was longer
  • Used Rapsodo and tape balls to make him aware of spin axis on all fastballs thrown

Results

  • Healthy all season, pitched in the most games of anyone on the staff
  • Sat upper 80s in games he was fresh for, hit 90 for the first time in his life and did so multiple times
  • Improved spin axis to being between 0:00-1:00 consistently and improved spin efficiency close to 100% to give better positive vertical break

Helge87

Pitcher 8 (82-84 to 86-87)

Assessment

  • Loose, whippy mover. Really liked his delivery from the get go. Wanted to get slightly tighter with his arm swing to sync it better with his delivery
  • Cut his CH a lot and threw a very straight and hittable FB – needed some kind of action. CB had some good action, simply needed to be more consistent with the spin for it to be a good pitch

Process

  • Used pivot pick-offs and constrained roll-in throws to shorten the arm action and connect it better to the delivery overall
  • Participated fully in off-season velocity programming
  • Heavy focus on pitch design and spin consistency during the early winter months and continued to give cues such as “throwing through the inside” of his CH to promote better spin and break throughout the season

Results

  • Originally slated to be a bullpen guy, ended up being one the most reliable starters on the staff. A big reason being the development of the CH as a go to pitch
  • Throughout the season we added a cutter to his arsenal and broke it out in the conference tournament championship where he was dominant for most of the game due in large part to that pitch

The pitching reports below showcase some of what helped him be successful, but also where he can continue to improve. Generally speaking, his delivery is very consistent on all pitches thrown which allows for more deception as well as command of his pitches game to game (represented in the first chart). That being said, learning new pitches and how to spin them properly is a challenging task and that is shown in the second report with heavier scatter patterns on the results of the pitches. The CH clustering is especially erratic here as we were learning how to spin it to get the results we wanted. As those tighten up and the pitch becomes more well defined, it will be that much more effective.

FurstReleaseMetrics

FurstMovement

Pitcher 3 (86-88 previous season, did not participate in fall ball, 89-91 in spring)

Assessment

  • Unable to throw in the fall due to a shoulder impingement and biceps flare up.
  • Evaluations as he began to throw were that his arm was really long and very stiff. Not a rhythmic mover at all
  • Big body, had been 87-88 the year before touching 90s and has the ability to fill it up most days. On occasion the command would be erratic and on those days, he had not shown the ability to adjust in game to regain command of pitches

Process

  • The biggest piece of his process was freeing the arm up to allow it to work more proximal to distal in the delivery. The arm got long out of the glove but didn’t get back in tight during the turn to capture more rotational energy and then allow it to release in a more explosive fashion
  • On a more slow-cooked type throwing program build-up for the season given the arm injury the year prior. Built volume at lower intensities and slowly added higher effort throwing. Didn’t participate in velocity training in the off-season and was very upset about it. Trusted me enough to follow through with the programming we set forth

Results

  • One of our main relievers, completely dominant at times for extended innings
  • Velocity at the beginning of our live sessions was in the 87-88 range and he wanted to strangle me, but as the season went and he built up completely he was 90-93 and up to 95. SL got up as high as 84 with good glove side action and some depth

Had good strikeout numbers, but in my opinion they could have been better and the charts below showcase what I think is why. There isn’t enough separation in his off-speed offerings in terms of vertical break despite both being good pitches, neither is elite. Both are pitches that can be thrown for strikes, and sometimes strikeouts, but neither has full swing and miss. Going into his draft year, it will be vital for him to make the necessary adjustments to make the SL an elite pitch to pair with an excellent fastball and good splitter.

BrussAverageMovements

Pitcher 16 (83-84 to 86-88)

Assessment

  • Lightning quick arm, very quick to be in and out of his lead leg block didn’t allow for good direction in his delivery, very rotational in his throws and would fall off early to the glove side
  • Some feel for his pitches, but they blended together a little more than we would like
  • Had TJ prior to coming in

Process

  • Had him on a mild throwing program to be mindful of previous elbow complications and seeing how quick his arm worked, focus was more on improving the delivery to get the most we could out of him
  • Lead leg block focus to provide stability in the delivery and provide a foundation for his rapid rotational speed in the torso
  • Pitch design sessions focused on properly getting through the CH to get arm side action and sink and differentiating spin better between SL and CB

Results

  • Had a great start to his campaign before a flexor strain on the spring trip caused him to miss most of the season
  • Delivery adjustments provided a much better sense of direction and increased velocity
  • Saw some progress in the pitch development, but as the chart shows, there is still not enough separation between SL and CB as he gyrospins his CB too much. For a guy that gets as much positive vertical break on his FB as he does, a CB with better overhand spin will play much more successfully

PayneMovement

Pitcher 11 (74-75 to 83-84)

Assessment

  • In the gentlest way, he was a mess. Significant labrum tear in HS as a sophomore after logging 190IP from high school to summer to club in the off-season
  • Needed a complete remapping of the throwing action, and had hopes of being able to return him to HS form where he was low 90s prior to his labrum tear and subsequent deterioration through final two years of HS and first year of college

Process

  • Wasn’t allowed to throw a baseball for 5 months. We did exclusively plyocare throwing in constraints to remap the arm action. Used the tennis racket and overhand serve movement to give external focuses and allow his arm to work around his injury and be free to move
  • Saw significant progress into the early winter when we were cut short on our long term vision for him to begin throwing bullpens (original plan was a full year of development and pattern changes so that he could be back to full strength as a redshirt sophomore)

Results

  • The results were pretty remarkable for the window of time that we had. He changed his arm action and was able to throw pain free during the September-January time where we were not focusing on any mound work or pitching, just movement quality and workload management on his arm
  • His velocity climbed out of the mid 70s to the low 80s in that time. Bullpens brought back pain in the shoulder and pitching the remainder of the season did not change that
  • Continued working on the side to improve the arm as well as connecting the entire body to it. Velocity climbed up to 85-87 sporadically, simply could not maintain it for longer outings

Pitcher 15 (80-81 to 83-85)

Assessment

  • Long and lean, not a guy that will be ready to throw varsity innings his first year because he needed some work to be in the proper velocity spectrum to be successful
  • Had some feel for spinning different pitches, but they needed to be sharpened
  • VERY linear pitcher, very pushy. Soft front side. Definitely someone that had been harped on to “throw strikes” from an early age

Process

  • Took him to the plyo wall for as long as we could and worked on how to properly engage the lower half and connect that energy in rotation to the upper half
  • Did some of the “ride the slide” work referenced above. Focused hard on the lead leg block attacking from above with some aggressiveness
  • Delivery overhaul as primary focus, moved on to spin work on the Rapsodo afterwards and cleaned up an existing repertoire that he had solid feel for. Biggest challenge was proper wrist/hand positioning to differentiate his 2S and cutter at higher arm speeds. Slow motion camera was needed for that

Results

  • First day back on the mound after our winter work, he was rotating so hard he couldn’t get the ball to go more than 40 feet before it hit the netting on his glove side. Gave me a “what did you do to me?” look
  • Slowly but surely he recalibrated to harmonize the new rotational aspects with a better driveline phase of his arm to deliver the ball while maximizing his velocity output
  • Jumped in velocity, off-speed stuff improved, and had the chance to be a contributor on varsity while dominating JV competition

Those were some of the highlights to what our pitching staff was able to accomplish this year. Coupled with the table at the beginning showing progress, it was all in all a very successful season on the mound. But with all of the highlights, there were plenty of things that were done poorly and as a coach that is what I need to learn from the most.

Workload Management

Our workload management was horrendous on the whole. There was not enough trust built in these younger and newer pitchers to put them into games to provide our older, and oft injured veterans (from previous years) some more rest between outings. We also didn’t monitor our pitches and work very well early in the season. I believe this had a direct impact on a few of the injuries we suffered as it correlates directly with the MLB findings during spring training and the prevalence of forearm soft tissue injuries. We had a partial UCL tear in our first weekend, thankfully it was only partial as he was able to come back to throw late in the season and was excellent for us. Ultimately it was any combination of short rest, spikes in pitch counts, not throwing with enough intensity or volume between outings, trying to provide rest due to discomfort and then quick ramps back up, that contributed to some injuries for us.

Almost everyone that experienced an injury this year was unable to participate in our off-season velocity training due to complications from the previous season or summer ball. We were unable to exceed our in game demands through training prior to the season. It is impossible to point the finger at one thing that leads to injury, but with all the commonalities that these pitchers had, it is hard to ignore some of the correlations. This is why one person should be in charge of the monitoring workload (throwing, weight lifting, and academic stress all taken into account) and then be able to make the proper decisions for arms appropriately, especially early in the season during live at bats and early spring games. It needs to be a higher priority than trying to get the hitters as many at bats as possible prior to games starting. To those that we failed in that this year, I cannot express how much regret I carry that we put you in those positions.

Workload mismanagement aside, the successes experienced by the staff were incredible and it was another step in the process that coach Mark Moriarty started two years prior when he implemented the Driveline programming with the team. It takes a coach well versed in many areas to be able to build something so robust such as what this pitching staff has as a platform for development. I was very fortunate to be able to follow in his footsteps and leave the program in good shape moving forward with young arms ready to contribute significantly and leadership in the ranks to welcome new pitchers into the program for the foreseeable future.

Development of players in the college landscape has always been important to those that don’t get the most talent out of HS, but it is increasingly becoming apparent that even the kids with more talent can flourish in the right programs. Development is king, and more players are realizing that and will continue to seek out programs that make it a priority. The culture of development breeds accountability, hard work, and ultimately winning.

 

-Casey Jacobson

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